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March 21, 2019
October 7, 2019


Bedford’s country parks are warming up for yet another scorcher of a summer By Paul Dunwell

Nobody who’s tramped around Priory Park recently can have failed to notice that, everywhere one turns, nature has woken up. It’s yawning, stretching its arms, scratching its bottom and wondering what’s for breakfast.

On that score I am reminded of the medieval song, originally composed in the Wessex dialect of Middle English, called ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’ (this equates to ‘Summer has come in’ but it is also known as both ‘The Summer Canon’ and ‘The Cuckoo Song’). Has anyone heard a cuckoo yet, by the way? I digress. This is quite possibly the most famous song from its era (I guess it ties with ‘Greensleeves’, which Henry VIII is credited with writing and which it’s said was a lewd ditty referring to the consequence for the lady in question’s elbows of prolonged lovemaking on fresh grass). And it’s a round (also called a ‘rota’). So somebody starts singing and others then join in.

‘Sumer Is Icumin In’ was used in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973, a cult film which climaxes with Edward Woodward going on the barbie. See

 www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FdV-O8o7ok and


Wicker Man

‘Sumer Is Icumin In’ was probably written between 1261 and 1264 (so a good 300 years before Henry supposedly wrote ‘Greensleeves’ in 1580) by W. de Wycombe (this may have been Wicumb or Whichbury; he was English though the name suggests he had French heritage). He was the precentor (a teacher of traditions) at Leominster Priory in Herefordshire. And he was not just a composer (though one who was unlikely to have written lewd ditties yet who knows?) but a copyist too (copyists usually copy documents but can copy or mimic musical styles). The score was found in Reading Abbey but it is now in the British Museum.

If anyone wants to know the lyrics so they can sing along, they are as follows:

‘Svmer is icumen in Lhude sing cuccu! Groweþ sed and bloweþ med and springþ þe wde nu. Sing cuccu! Summer is a-coming in Loudly sing cuckoo Groweth seed and bloweth mead and springs the wood anew Sing cuckoo! Awe bleteþ after lomb, lhouþ after calue cu, Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ. Murie sing cuccu! Cuccu, cuccu, Wel singes þu cuccu. ne swik þu nauer nu!’

And the tune? Listen to www.youtube.com/watch?v=27vqy-vKBJs.


Speaking of music and with May 1st on the horizon, I am reminded that it was Marc Bolan and T Rex who recorded the great song ‘Beltane Walk’ (on www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI1Jn8sWHnc). It was recently performed live onstage by Boy George with T Rexstasy at the 35th anniversary of Bolan’s death and actually he did a pretty good job. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJjjAQhZGso.

Hemlock Morris

Beltane is, of course, an ancient Celtic or Gaelic festival celebrated on May Day and announcing the beginning of summer. Beltane is the anglicised name (it has also been known as ‘Lá Bealtaine’ by the Irish, ‘Là Bealltainn’ by the Gaelic Scots and ‘Laa Boaltinn’ or ‘Laa Boaldyn’ by inhabitants of the Isle of Man). It’s still celebrated by the Irish and Scots, the Manx, neoPagans and Wiccans. And those joining in light bonfires, decorate homes with flowers, make ‘May bushes’, visit holy wells, feast and dance.

Which neatly brings me to Hemlock Morris, Bedford’s own answer to Britain’s Got Talent winners ‘Diversity’.

Beltane is the anglicised name for the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.

On May 1st (May Day, so it’s a holiday and most of us won’t need to work or even get up) the morris-dancing group will be celebrating the advent of spring at Ampthill Great Park. They will meet at 5am (really!) for a caper at dawn. By 5.30pm they should be at Katherine’s Cross. Then they’ll sensibly repair to the Queen’s Head for a breakfast and beer at 7am, eager to replace the energy lost shaking their bells, bladders and booties.

They will be dancing routines that are traditions in the Cotswolds and English-Welsh borders. And in this noble enterprise they will be accompanied by another troupe, Golden Hare Morris, in order to follow the trail associated with the famous book ‘Masquerade’ by Kit Williams. You may remember that this caused a sensation in 1979 on account of it triggering a hunt for a bejewelled golden hare.

It’s definitely worth going to this Beltane gig if knee-slapping together with the waving of handkerchiefs, pigs’ bladders and clubs holds an appeal. If it doesn’t then apparently there is a 2009 mockumentary starring Sir Derek Jacobi and called ‘A Life with Bells On’ that has a cult following. Maybe you should watch it. Then you can get in touch with these guys via their website at http://hemlockmorris.com/

Morris men

From what I gather the motivation is to keep alive a tradition that’s already endured for 400 years or so. That’s if we’re talking about the dancing. The drinking, which likewise seems to be an intrinsic part of these good-natured get-togethers, dates back to pre-history. But now, abandoning one age-old tradition that is a little anachronous, they actually let girls do it too!

You can meet Hemlock Morris to chat about joining them at any of their practice sessions. They meet at the Ent Shed on Castle Road every Monday night at 8pm.


Anyone who regularly visits Bedford’s parks will realise that they’re treasure-troves for those who like to pick fruit and flowers, and that’s something which families love to do together. There will be some cherries and elderflowers out there soon, though you’ll be in competition with the magpies.


Jon Bishop (Bedford’s Country Park Warden and a man who’s responsible for several sites in the region) is always looking for help from capable volunteers.

Expect hard work that’s certain to burn thousands of calories. So this is a marvellous way to tone up whilst losing some weight. But it’s a bit of a social event too. And it will get you out of the house to make new friends.

Volunteers NeededRight now the team has been focused on preliminary careening of the listed wall which forms the boundary to the East of Priory Park. Much of it dates to the 16th century (Henry VIII broke up what was a lot of Roman Catholic property then used the funds to build his navy). It has been overgrown by ivy and other parasitic plants. Most of that needs to be delicately removed before a specialist conservation team can move in. The job is expected to take volunteers well into May.

If you’re interested in being a Priory Country Park Volunteer (you’ll be amply paid in drinks and biscuits) then you can get hold of Jon Bishop by emailing him using prioryrangers@bedford.gov.uk. Sessions are usually on either the first or the last Sunday of the month (yet are subject to change, so check first) and the meeting-point is the park ranger’s compound behind the Cloverdale Retreat café. But the next session is due on Sunday May 12th 2019. Volunteers will meet at 9.30am for a 10.00am start. And, if you cannot get away on a Sunday or you’re a glutton for punishment, other opportunities are available during the week. Because, as well as the regular Sunday sessions, there are even more regular weekday sessions to get involved.  These are every Monday and Thursday.




Starting in March 2019 Bedford Beekeepers Association is running two ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ courses; one in Luton and one in Bedford. Each involves 6 indoor theory sessions followed, when they finish and the days are warming up, by outdoor practical sessions.

The cost is £60 a course. But all equipment, including protective clothing, is provided.

Bedford’s theory sessions will be held indoors at Moggerhanger Village Hall for six Tuesday evenings starting on 5th March 2019 and lasting from 7.30pm to 10pm. These will be followed by practical sessions outdoors at Priory Country Park Training Apiary on Sunday mornings from April to September.

Meanwhile Luton’s theory sessions will be held indoors at Stockwood Park Discovery Centre for six Sunday mornings starting on 3rd March 2019 and lasting from 10.30am to 12.30pm. These will be followed by practical sessions outdoors at Stockwood Park Training Apiary on Sunday mornings from April to September.

This course is suitable for complete beginners and new beekeepers who need help. Bedford Beekeepers Association invite anyone interested to book a place on the course by visiting their website at www.bedsbka.org.uk

They meanwhile recommend that newcomers to the course prepare themselves by reading ‘Is Beekeeping for You?’ That’s also on their site.

Paul Dunwell
Paul Dunwell
Paul originally trained as an infantryman then a teacher. He was perhaps the UK’s youngest lecturer and assistant examiner, and taught for almost a decade before moving into Swiss-based commerce then international market intelligence. He’s been a copywriter for almost 30 years. Educated to master’s level twice, he writes for almost every purpose and kind of client imaginable. Paul has 4 children. As you can see from the photo, his other great love is the outdoors. Paul’s ambitions are to catch big fish through small holes in the ice, to be recognized as the rightful King of Swaziland, and to retire early in order to spend more time with his money. Paul’s professional profile is at LinkedIn

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